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I sat in bed rubbing my eyes, trying to wake up. The clock read 6:29 am. Europe was well into their day. After navigating a tricky conflict the day before, my energy tank was dangerously low. I longed to stay in bed but five urgent issues loomed in Slack. I lumbered out of bed, slipped into a pair of pants and a nice sweater, forcing mental exhaustion to the back of my mind. Pushing back my own concerns was just part of leadership. This was one morning but it could have been any number of them as a leader.


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Leadership is not for the emotionally fragile. It can shatter you into a thousand pieces if not you’re careful. Leading has a way of revealing our biggest weaknesses. Many leaders didn’t realize how much it makes you confront your own personal failings. How much of leadership is having a mirror held up to your face. Even more challenging? That mirror and your reflection is in public. There’s no where to hide those uncomfortable truths about ourselves. We have to confront our mistakes, our humanness in front of the team. This is hard stuff.

Being responsible for the work and well-being…

What I learned to do instead

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Most of us long to be good partners to others. But what does it mean to be good to others in a relationship? In my twenties, I thought it meant being polite, overriding my own needs or feelings to make life easier for the other person. I thought I was building strong relationships. Except that I felt like a phony, I felt awkward. For me being nice meant being saccharine sweet rather than real. As I continued putting my own needs aside, I saw others as selfish. Several friendships fizzled when conflict hit. We were too “nice” to talk about…

The myths we often believe

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Someone asked me to write about the difference between managing and leading. As I found myself articulating the difference, I kept coming back to myths about leading. Confusing management with leadership is definitely one, but there are so many more.

These misunderstandings lead to misaligned expectations and friction. Those who understand the rigors of leading are more likely to successfully navigate it. I hope this helps teams understand the role more too. There are so many more myths but I hope these six are a good start to give us more realistic expectations.

#1. Management and leadership are the same

We use these terms interchangeably. They are…

Overcoming mistakes without falling into an emotional hole

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Startups are a complicated beast to wrangle. 90% of all startups fail, some even in their first year. These odds make triumph nearly impossible.

Like many, Lauren Kay founded her Y-Combinator backed startup Dating Ring with high hopes to make a difference. Like most founders she experienced the roller coaster of raising venture capital, building the product and worrying whether she’d make payroll. After struggling to find a viable financial path for the company, she departed feeling like a failure.

“I was the worst kind of fraud. I had been celebrated as a gifted young founder. But now I was…

You don’t have to be a relationship expert to have better ones

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Picking a major in Psychology was easy, figuring out how to use it was far trickier. After college I careened from one low paying job to another doing a stint as an activities director at a nursing home, then working for the Girl Scouts where I wore a scratchy and uncomfortable uniform. My personal life was equally chaotic. I moved four times in 16 months and found myself resolutely single as the rest of my friends got married.

Hoping new surroundings would kick start my life I moved across the country from my squarely midwestern town in Michigan to San…

How to find balance with this complicated behavior

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We stood in a room that looked more like a cozy living room than the office of a growing startup. We were chatting after grabbing hot drinks — chai for me, coffee for them. I was mentoring a group of leaders, many of them in their first role. We were talking about the role of a leader.

“The biggest part of my job is protecting the team. I’m like a bouncer.” one of them said with absolute certainty. Others nodded their head.

I remember where I was standing. I remember breathing deeply, assessing how to respond. I understood the instinct…

Using emotional contagion to get the right kind of momentum

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The sun was shining, Santigold was playing and a grassy field stood empty when Colin Wynter decided to start dancing. By himself. Not just a side to side sway. No, this was a dance of abandon. Flapping about in a decidedly awkward manner. He danced uninhibited, flapping about in a decidedly awkward manner. Finally someone else joined. They danced awkwardly while others sat on the ground looking on. Then a third guy joined the revelry. That was the tipping point. The energy was infectious. Within a few moments a small crowd formed. Soon it grew into a throng, people joining…

Spotting the difference between black holes and open spaces

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Leadership voids are common. In a survey of senior leaders, 32% took the role to fill a void. It’s not surprising. Companies are dynamic entities so their needs change over time including the kind of leaders required for current conditions.

Leadership voids are gaps that no one feels responsible for or they’re land whose ownership is in conflict. Let’s start with the positive aspect to this organizational phenomenon. Leadership voids can be openings where emerging talent enters. Folks with capacity and latent talent for leadership can fill cracks, providing much needed momentum for the team and their own career. This…

You don’t have to wait until 90 to get clarity.

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I’d just arrived in San Francisco. I was 2,403 miles from home and was alone in my adopted city. I didn’t have a single friend. I had $800 to my name, an apartment lease and no job. After completing grad school, I needed to leave my home state of Michigan. I was impossibly young, hopeful and ready for a fresh start. I didn't have big dreams. Mostly I wanted to carve out a small plot of independence for myself.

My life will change in San Francisco I intoned to myself.

I packed just the essentials (clothes, a stash of books…

Suzan Bond

Leadership coach for new technology leaders. Fast Company contributor. Former COO Travis CI. Twitter: @suzanbond

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